Stuart Bathgate: No knee-jerk decision on Levein
IN June 1791, as older readers will recall, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fled Paris, which was in a state of turmoil. They did not get far. Seized and returned to the French capital in disgrace, they were eventually executed in the Place de la Revolution.
Such has been the furore surrounding Craig Levein’s decision to go on holiday for a week, it would hardly have come as a surprise had the Scotland manager been subjected to something similar. If not quite condemned of treason and guillotined, at least halted at the airport and dragged back to Glasgow’s George Square to be subjected to ritual humiliation by fans in a state of seething self-righteousness.
It seems no-one in public office is allowed a break these days. At least not while any sort of crisis is under way – and there is no denying the fact that the national team is in a state of crisis.
Perhaps it would have been more politically sensitive for Levein to hang around in a Hampden office for a while, mulling over dossiers and inviting the cameras in from time to time to be seen fretting about a World Cup qualification campaign that has so far seen Scotland win just two points. But it would have been futile as well, if not actually counter-productive. So, too, would any decision by the powers that be at the SFA to rush to judgment and sack their manager.
It is easy to understand why so many people are annoyed both by Levein’s short break and by the governing body’s decision to postpone any action until his return. They fear that the SFA is trying to buy time and that, once the hubbub in the wake of the Wales and Belgium defeats has died down, the decision will be taken to allow the incumbent to carry on in his post as if nothing had gone wrong.
God knows there are many reasons to be suspicious of the SFA but, whatever their motives are, in this instance they are surely right to refuse to be bounced into any knee-jerk decision. When time is on your side, there is really no excuse for acting in haste and repenting at leisure.
And in terms of Scotland, there is ample time for either a vote of confidence in the current manager or a successful hunt for a successor. There is a month before the team’s next match, a friendly in Luxembourg, four months before the next friendly, against Estonia at Pittodrie, and all of five months until the next competitive fixture, the return against Wales at Hampden next March.
Do we really need a new man in place for a trip to the Grand Duchy or the game against Estonia? Is either of those games so vital that Levein’s replacement needs to be in charge for them if he is to get anything out of the Welsh match?
In fact, let’s go further. Between now and Scotland’s next competitive match of any significance, it is probable that two years will elapse.
After all, we’re all but out of the World Cup already, aren’t we? That’s why we’re so annoyed with Levein, because, with two draws and two defeats from those first four matches, we have little or no hope of overhauling Belgium and Croatia, who look like they have the quality to become group winners and runners-up.
So is it really necessary to blood a new manager in what is already a doomed campaign? Or can we afford to wait, if required, all the way to October two years hence and the start of the qualifying tournament for Euro 2016?
Granted, if SFA chief executive, Stewart Regan, suggested we do nothing about the manager for two years, he would be greeted with outrage. But the reality is that, for that period, Scotland, whether managed by Levein or the greatest coach who ever lived, are almost certainly in an international vacuum.
Any resounding victories over the likes of Luxembourg will be meaningless. Any further blows to our morale from another defeat to the likes of Wales and Belgium will hurt, of course they will, but they will only be adding insult to injury. Either way, the effect will be temporary, something to be discounted when the next qualifying campaign begins.
There are cases to be made for and against Levein although, of course, it should be accepted that the evidence against him is mounting up. That much was obvious from the fact that one of the main arguments in his favour, trotted out by various apologists for him last week, was the suggestion that no-one else could do any better.
It is just not good enough to keep a man in such an important post merely because you cannot think of anyone who could do better. Scotland are bottom of their group and, even if the current international squad are well below the level of some of their predecessors, it should not be beyond the capability of someone else to make an improvement. But nor is it good enough, in such an important post, to make a hasty change in the hope of saving your own skin – a charge that could have been levelled at the SFA had they bowed to public pressure last week and given Levein the bullet.
You are entitled, indeed obliged, to take a reasonable time before arriving at a decision – and even allowing for the poor results we have had, another week is a reasonable time.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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